SCOTT MOONEYHAM: There Is Lots to Agree With in UNC Report
Its 281 pages are more properly a book.
Given the subject matter -- the governance and politics of North Carolina's public universities -- a book was needed.
The report reaches several conclusions that aren't so surprising.
It finds that rapidly rising tuition since 1999 invites a lawsuit challenging whether the state is fulfilling a constitutional mandate to keep higher education costs low. It calls for the governor, rather than the legislature, to appoint the majority of the members of the Board of Governors, which sets policy for all 16 schools in the University of North Carolina system.
The more interesting reading, though, relates to the special treatment sought from the legislature by the university system in general and the two large research universities, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, in particular.
Many aspects of the drive to convey special status to UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State have been well chronicled: their attempt at an end-run around the Board of Governors to gain legislative approval to set tuition on their own; school boosters creating political action committees that stuff thousands of dollars into legislative campaigns.
Supporters of conveying special status to the state's two longstanding research campuses argue that their academic mission is threatened without it. They say the current level of state support and revenue generated by the Board of Governors' tuition policy aren't enough to allow the two schools to compete for top faculty.
But opponents believe such special status would lead to a free-for-all for tax dollars that a centralized university system was supposed to prevent, with a university's ties to powerful legislators determining funding.
The report's authors delve deeper into the arguments, even exploring the three-tiered California higher education system which sets apart its top research universities from other schools.
Ultimately, though, the report rejects the arguments. It recommends that state leaders keep N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill under the Board of Governors' authority.
It cites plenty of facts and figures to back up the recommendation, concluding that the two schools have done quite well since the creation of a centralized UNC system in 1971. Among them:
-- In 2005-06, North Carolina ranked sixth in the nation in per-capita state spending on higher education
-- UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State have been given tuition flexibility, and educational costs at the schools are no longer low by many measures. UNC-Chapel Hill's tuition is now 6 percent above the average for public universities across the South.
What the report doesn't say is that the drive for special status may ultimately hurt the schools more than it helps them.
Legislative leaders do change, and their replacements may not look so fondly upon places like Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Seeking special treatment, meanwhile, undermines public support, causing more taxpayers to sees university officials as elitists intent on creating institutions solely for their ilk.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
More like this story